“Ah, the Signore and dear Luigi!” she would cry when she caught sight of our gondola rounding into the landing. Then down the path she would skip, the joyous embodiment of beauty and grace, and help me out, Luigi following; and we would stroll up under the fig trees, and she would begin showing me this and that new piece of furniture, or pot, or kettle, or new bread knife, or scissors, or spoon, which Vittorio had added to their store since my last visit. Or I would find them both busy over the gondola,— he polishing his brasses and ferro, and she rehanging the curtains of the tenda which she had washed and ironed with her own hands.
In truth it was a very happy little nest that was tucked away in one corner of that old abandoned garden with its outlook on the broad water and its connecting link with the row of neighbors’ houses flanking the side canal,—and no birds in or out of any nest in all Venice ever sang so long and so continuously nor were there any others so genuinely happy the livelong day and night as these two.
Did I not know something of the curious mixture of love, jealousy, and suspicion which goes into the making-up of an Italian, it would be hard for me to believe that so lovely a structure as this dovecote, one built with so much hope and alight with so much real happiness, could ever come tumbling to the ground. We Anglo-Saxons flame up indignantly when those we love are attacked, and we demand proofs. “Critica,” that bane of Venetian life—what this, that, or the other neighbor tattles to this, that, and the other listener, we dismiss with a wave of the hand, or with fingers tight clenched close to the offender’s lips, or by a blow in the face. Not so the Italian. He also blazes, but he will stop and wonder when his anger has cooled; think of this and that; put two and two together, and make ten of what is really only four. This is what happened to the nest under the grapevines.
I was in my own garden at the Britannia leaning over the marble balcony, wondering what kept Luigi—it was past ten o’clock—when the news reached me. I had caught sight of his white shirt and straw hat as he swung out behind the Salute and headed straight toward me, and saw from the way he gripped his oar and stretched his long body flat with the force of each thrust, that he had a message of importance, even before I saw his face.
“A Dio, Signore!” he cried. “What do you think? Vittorio has cursed Loretta, torn her wedding ring from her finger, and thrown it in her face!”
“Yes,—he will listen to nothing! He is a crazy fool and I have done all I could. He believes every one of the lies that crab-catching brute of a Francesco is telling. It would be over by to-night, but Loretta does not take it like the others: she says nothing. You know her eyes—they are not like our Giudecca girls. They are burning now like two coals of fire, and her cheeks are like chalk.”